The Lord has said, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” (John 15:5.) He also said, through Paul, that “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, [and] peace.” (Gal. 5:22.) It is about the fruit of our effort that I wish to speak—the fruit of love and joy, which is ultimately the fruit of peace. It is a harvest that can only come in the Lord’s way. Its roots are deep in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
It seems tragic to me that women are often their own worst enemies when they ought to be allies, nurturing and building each other. We all know how much a man’s opinion of us can mean, but I believe our self-worth as women is often reflected to us in the eyes of other women. When other women respect us, we respect ourselves. It is often only when other women find us pleasant and worthy that we find ourselves pleasant and worthy. If we have this effect on each other, why aren’t we more generous and loving with one another?
I’ve thought long and often about this. I have finally come to suspect that part of the problem is the heart! We are afraid—afraid to reach out, afraid to reach up, afraid to trust and be trusted, especially with and by other women. In short, we don’t love enough. We don’t exercise to full capacity the greatest gift and power God gave to women.
Dr. Gerald G. Jampolsky, a psychiatrist from the University of California, tells us that love is an innate characteristic. It’s already there. But too often it becomes clouded over with fear, which, through life’s experiences, we’ve conjured up ourselves. He says, “When you feel love for all, not just those you choose, but all those [with] whom you come in contact—you experience peace. When you feel fear with anyone you come in contact with, you want to defend yourselves and attack others and there comes the conflict.” (Gerald Jampolsky, Love Is Letting Go of Fear, New York: Bantam Books, 1981, p. 2.)
Obviously, we have a choice. If Dr. Jampolsky is right, we can choose love and experience peace, or choose fear and experience conflict. Quoting again from Dr. Jampolsky, “In order to experience peace instead of conflict, it is necessary to shift our perception. Instead of seeing others as attacking us, we can see them as fearful. We are always experiencing love or fear. Fear is really a call for help and therefore a request for love. It is apparent then that in order to experience peace we do have a choice in determining the way we perceive things.” (Ibid.)
Moroni made the same observation. He maintained that he was able to overcome fear because he was full of charity, which is everlasting love: “Behold, I speak with boldness, having authority from God; and I fear not what man can do; for perfect love casteth out all fear.” (Moro. 8:16.)
If the fear of other women and/or men causes our conflict, and unconditional love for them brings us the valued peace we so desire, then shouldn’t the whole pursuit of our lives be to extend love everywhere and to everyone? Doesn’t it make you want to put every ounce of energy you have into the practice and pursuit of perfect love?
But just desiring to love doesn’t necessarily make it happen. Those who try hardest will be most aware of falling short. I encourage you not to be discouraged. I have on occasion prayed to love someone better only to find a greater division come between us temporarily—but from which eventually, and with much work, grows a deeper, more tender love. Erich Fromm has written, “Because one does not see that love is an activity, a power of the soul, one believes that all that is necessary to find is the right object—and that everything goes by itself afterward. This attitude can be compared to that of a man who wants to paint but who, instead of learning the art, claims that he has just to wait for the right object, and that he will paint beautifully when he finds it.” (Erich Fromm, quoted in Secrets to Share, sel. Lois Daniel, New York: Hallmark, 1971, p. 59.) Love is like any other talent, art, skill, or virtue. It takes practice, perspiration, knowledge, and plenty of time. Willingness does not imply mastery, but it does mean we are willing to try.
In my younger years, I nurtured tender dreams of becoming an accomplished pianist. Reaching such a goal requires daily exercises, performances, recitals, trial and error, trying again and again for many years. We might view the pursuit of lasting love and perfect peace in exactly the same way—except that the Lord tells us that charity is the greatest of all talents, gifts, and virtues. Without it, “ye are nothing.” (Moro. 7:46.) That scripture contains a classic, crucial observation about self-worth. To be anybody, you must love everybody.
Now, getting back to the “practice” of love, I would like to suggest three basic exercises to develop this gift.
Exercise number one is to forgive. Forgiveness is the key to peace in personal relationships. If you can somehow wipe the slate clean and see everyone as blameless, you will begin to see yourself as blameless. Remember Dr. Jampolsky’s observation about fear and love. It might help you to forgive others their offenses and attacks against you if you can see that they were operating out of fear and not malice.
At one time I worked with another woman in the presidency of an organization. She often teasingly belittled me, but because it was done in jest she felt she could get away with it. However, it became a great source of hurt and irritation to me. While trying to practice this concept of forgiveness, I realized that every time I received a jab in jest, it was because of an inadequacy this sister felt in herself. I really believe that she was a frightened woman. In the privacy of her own life and out of earshot or eyesight from me, she was so busy nursing her own hurt that she simply was not able to consider anyone else’s. In some unfortunate way, I believe she felt she had so little to give that any compliment or virtue extended to another would somehow demean her. She did need my love, and I was foolish to take offense.
President Spencer W. Kimball has counseled that as we try to overlook whatever others have done to us, we begin to let go of all that has been hard to forgive in ourselves. We will feel peace, and wholeness, and we will remember that the Lord suffered for our sins so we could experience at-one-ment with him, our neighbors, and very importantly, within ourselves. (See Faith Precedes the Miracle, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1972, pp. 190–96.)
Exercise number two is to accept others unconditionally. What we want most of all is the approval, praise, and unconditional love of others. Can we give less than what we desire for ourselves? One day my feelings had been deeply hurt by a close neighbor. Feeling what I was sure at the time was deserved self-pity, I went to my room and poured out my broken heart in prayer. I remember specifically saying, “Dear Father in Heaven, please help me to find a friend whom I can trust, one with whom I know I’ll be safe, one who deserves my confidence and my love.” He did bless me—he gave me, for a moment, the uncluttered insight that can come only by the Spirit. He helped me to see that I was praying for a “perfect” friend, while he had generously surrounded me with friends whose weaknesses were like my own.
A good relationship is not one in which perfection reigns; rather, it is one in which a healthy perspective simply overlooks the faults of others.
I would like to give you a very specific way to practice this exercise. For one day, make a note each time you critically evaluate someone. This doesn’t have to be a spoken criticism (though this, too, should be considered), but it’s important to note each time you pass even unspoken judgment. Judgments might be passed against yourself, your own children, husband, neighbor, or friend. Then the next day, see if you can go the entire day without being critical or petty toward anyone.
This little exercise might surprise you. My husband will verify that I conscientiously work at never speaking ill of anyone. It is a virtue I earnestly seek, and I see it as fundamental to true Christianity. When I undertook this little exercise, therefore, it amazed me to realize how often I did pass judgment, at least mentally. I was even more amazed to note how incredibly good I felt about myself when I was able to get through a whole day keeping that tendency in check. Remember that whatever you toss out mentally or verbally comes back to you according to God’s plan of compensation: “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” (Matt. 7:2.) A critical, petty, or vicious remark is simply an attack on your self-worth. On the other hand, if your mind is constantly seeing good in others, that, too, will return, and you will truly feel good about yourself.
Exercise number three is to give without any thought of getting. Now, I don’t mean for you to be a martyr in any way. But to be totally accepting of others, we must accept the fact that they cannot satisfy all of our desires. People can only be what they are—at least for the present. They can give only what they have at that moment to give. They may not have had as much knowledge of or practice at love as you have had. Yet when we want them to give us something they cannot give, we feel frustrated, angry, despondent, ill, rejected, or attacked.
For a long period of time in my life, there was a woman I admired very much whose unconditional love I would have cherished. I tried everything I knew to win her love, but nothing seemed to work. Then I read one day that the first principle of good mental health is to accept that which cannot be changed. I finally understood that this woman did love as much as she was able—and suddenly our entire relationship changed. It was more formal and restrained than I would have liked, but it was a relationship. If it had continued with my demanding more than she could give, it would surely have withered and died. In a sense, I had nurtured that particular plant in too small a pot. So I repotted it in a container more suitable to its size, gave it more room for growth, and it began to flourish. I could see that the fruit in this relationship was well worth some one-way nourishing, and I’m content now to wait until she is ready to give.
I want you to know that when I have practiced these exercises effectively, it has produced a miracle.
I used to be very shy. It was quite painful for me to make a move every two years or so as we were pursuing my husband’s career. Each new move was filled with fear. Would I be accepted? Would we live where people were more qualified than I? Would we live in a neighborhood where people could give their children more opportunity? With several of our first moves, we had lived in the new area only a few months (and I was still striving to establish a new identity) when I would be called to serve as the ward Relief Society president. God must have smiled as he saw that it took several repetitions of this same experience before I was able to see that at the precise moment I began to practice my love on the sisters and their families in these wards, I immediately lost all fear. It is my personal witness that if, instead of seeing life through the vainly colored lens of getting, we would practice changing our focus to unrestricted giving, we would forget about fear and conflict and begin to know real and lasting peace.
Those are my three exercises. Yet, even as I encourage you to practice, you must know that the demands of the real contest can be staggering. The suggestions I offer for minor conflicts, hurt, or irritations may not help much if someone took the life of your child, or stole the affections of your husband, or intentionally hurt you in some other unjust way.
In light of those greater needs, I bear this witness: There is in this world much that can be accomplished only with the help of God. If he tells us to love, he will give us the power to do so.
Perhaps you have read Corrie Ten Boom’s book, The Hiding Place. Have any of us been asked to experience the intensity of such injustices as she describes? Have we experienced the numbing fear of war, of prison camps, of the death of family and friends? Following is an excerpt from her book in which she relates an experience just as the war has ended. She has been released from prison camp, and her only desire is to teach her people that the way to rebuild is through love. Then she faces a startling and unexpected challenge:
“It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S. S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there—the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of our clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face.
“He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. ‘How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,’ he said. ‘To think that, as you say, He washed my sins away!’
“His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.
“Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.
“I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.
“As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.
“And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.” (New York: Bantam Books, 1974, p. 238.)
Moroni taught the same principle: “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ.” (Moro. 7:48.)
This perfect love, the kind that brings real peace, is “bestowed.” It is a gift given from our Father in Heaven in answer to the prayer of faith. We often will have no ability or power beyond our ability to plead for God’s help.
May I conclude by describing a sisterly relationship that may be the most sacred in all of scripture. Never before or since have two women—friends, neighbors, and in the same family circle—been chosen to bear such responsibilities. Their roots had to be deep, for the fruit of their loins would be the fruit of peace for an entire world.
I have always been touched that in her moment of greatest need, her singular time of confusion and wonder and awe, Mary went to another woman. She knew she could go to Elisabeth. I have also been touched that age is no factor here; in God’s love there is no generation gap. Mary was very young—probably in her mid-teens at most—and Elisabeth was well beyond her child-bearing age. The scripture says she was “well stricken” in years. (Luke 1:7.)
Yet these two women come together, greeting one another in a bond that only women can know. Indeed, it was their very womanhood that God had used for his holiest of purposes. And in the special roles they have been destined to play, these two beloved women—representing both personally and dispensationally the old and the new, sing to each other even as the babe in the womb of one leaps in recognition of the divinity of the other.
Elisabeth is not petty or fearful or envious here. Her son will not have the fame or role or divinity that has been bestowed on Mary’s child; but her only feelings are of love and devotion. To this young, bewildered kinswoman she says only, “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
“And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:42–43; italics added.)
Mary also knows that humility and selflessness are the watchwords. She knew that when she said to the Angel Gabriel, “be it unto me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:38; italics added.) And here to Elisabeth she sings, “My soul doth magnify the Lord. … he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.” (Luke 1:46, 51; italics added.)
This exchange between these two different yet similar women seems to me the essence of love and peace and purity. Surely the challenge for our day is to be equally pure in our womanhood. When we pollute the powerful potential for love with our pettiness and our fears, then disease replaces emotional health and despondency replaces peace.
As women, we have the choice and privilege to connect ourselves to God in a way whereby we draw his nourishing love down to our very roots. Such peace and power can then be extended to others. Like Mary, whose sweet joy and terrible burden could not be self-contained, each of us could find an Elisabeth to turn to if we would live for that relationship.
Like the cycles of trees and roots and branches, a woman’s love can be one eternal round. When we love the Lord, we love each other; and when we love each other, we love ourselves. Then the harvest is indeed the fruit of peace.
With only a shift in his pronouns, I share this concluding thought from George MacDonald:
“This love of [God and] one’s neighbor is the only door out of the dungeon of self. To have herself, to know herself, to enjoy herself, this she calls life; whereas, if she would forget herself, tenfold would be her life in God and her neighbors. The region of woman’s life is a spiritual region. God, her friends, her neighbors, her sisters all, is the wide world in which alone her spirit can find room. Herself is her dungeon.
“[In giving to others never] shall a woman lose the consciousness of [her own] well-being. Far deeper and more complete, God and her neighbor will flash it back upon her—pure as life. No more will she agonize to generate it in the light of her own decadence. For she shall know the glory of her own being in the light of God and of her sisters.” (George MacDonald, Creation in Christ, Wheaton, Ill.: Harold Shaw, 1976, p. 304.)
After reading “The Fruits of Peace,” you may want to discuss with a friend or with members of your family the following questions.
1. The article suggests that fear causes conflict and love brings peace. What kinds of conflict can fear create? What kinds of peace can love bring?
2. Is love a talent, innate within us, or is it a gift “given from our Father in Heaven in answer to the prayer of faith”? Could it be both? How?
3. What three exercises does the author suggest for developing love?
4. How does our love for the Lord and for each other affect the way we feel about ourselves?
5. What ideas in this article could help you develop charity—the kind of love that would enable you to love even those who hurt you in some unjust way?